By Anne Taylor Hartzell, on July 17, 2014

Hawaii Island food fun for kids

They say the way to a person’s heart is through the stomach. As any parent will tell you, this rings especially true for kids. When our family travels, sharing meals together and trying local foods are important parts of our overall experience. We all learn about a places through food. We have had some of our most memorable moments in Hawaii.

For new foods, we have a one-bite rule for our kids: Try one bite and if you don’t like it, you don’t have to eat it. I remember on one of our first family trips to Hawaii, our oldest daughter was just 1 year old and had her first taste of poi, a Polynesian food made from the Taro root (known as “kalo” in Hawaiian). The pale-purple, paste-like substance stuck to her face as she scrunched up her nose and pushed it out of her mouth. It was as if she was saying, “What was that?!” She didn’t make it past that first bite.

More often than not, the first place kids (and many adults) try poi and other Hawaiian food is at a traditional luau. Over the years, however, we have found that exposing the kids to new foods in Hawai’i doesn’t require a reservation or a seat at a ticketed buffet. Between farmers’ markets, farm tours, and festivals, traveling families can find sweet and savory Hawaiian treats at nearly every turn. Hawaii Island, provides the greatest number of opportunities for food exploration. Here are some of our favorites there.

Hilo Farmers’ Market

One of the best open markets on Hawaii Island is located in downtown Hilo, on the corner of Mamo Street and Kamehameha Avenue. That market, the Hilo Farmers’ Market, was ranked by The Huffington Post as one of the top farmers’ markets in the country, and is open year-round on Wednesdays and Saturdays (although some vendors are there every day). Kids can meander among stalls from more than 200 local farmers and crafters; taste fresh seasonal favorites such as dragon fruit, lychee, or sweet strawberry papayas; and smell the fragrant flowers of plumeria, orchids and anthuriums. Plan to arrive early to get the freshest local fruit and vegetables. The market is open from 6 a.m.- 4 p.m.

Photo credits: Kona Coffee Cultural Festival and Hawaii Island Visitors Bureau (HIVB)/Bob Coello?

The Original Hawaii Chocolate Factory and Farm Tour

Kona, the sunny side of Hawaii Island, is home to many coffee plantations and chocolate orchards. The Original Hawaii Chocolate Farm and Factory Tour is a fun way to teach kids how chocolate is grown and made. On the tour, kids and adults alike are invited to learn about every step in the process of making chocolate, from growing the trees to shaping the chocolate bars. The tour also has built in motivation for active little listeners with yummy chocolate samples. Tours are offered Wednesday and Friday mornings at 9 a.m., and reservations sell out pretty quickly. The tours cost US$15 per person and children under 12 are free.  

Kona Coffee Cultural Festival

No matter what time of year you visit Hawaii, you likely will find a festival to explore the local food and culture. While coffee and kids typically don’t mix, the annual Kona Coffee Cultural festival in November will host the Ueshima Coffee Hawaii-sponsored,
Kona Coffee Picking Contest & Coffee Games on Sunday, November 9, 2014 (festivities start at 8:30 a.m.). This is Hawaii’s oldest festival, and everyone is invited to try picking Kona’s famous harvest. Families can enjoy a barbeque, as well as games including the new Kendama Challenge, a game played with a wooden stick toy and a ball tied to a string. The objective of the game is to swing the ball and have it land in one of three cups on either end of the stick. It’s a fun coordination challenge for participants of any age. Admission is US$3, and farm tours are included in the ticket price.  

Viewfinder Tip: Roadside fruit stands are some of the best places to find fresh produce in Hawaii.

Stop off for shave ice

No trip to Hawaii (with or without kids) is complete without a giant, rainbow shave ice. While you likely will find shave ice stands at many of the farmers markets you visit, locals and visitors love Scandi’s, the Scandinavian Shave Ice and Coffee Shop, a Kona landmark for more than 20 years. This tiny shop offers 65 different flavors, and bills itself as “Da best shave ice in paradise.” On the Hilo side of Hawaii Island, try Itsu’s Fishing Supplies, a hidden gem (yes, it’s a fishing supply store) that serves up shave ice and local treats. Locals love shave ice with a topper of ice cream or condensed milk and azuki beans—small, red beans with a light, nutty flavor.

What are your favorite places to try new foods in Hawaii with your kids?